SU candidates raise concerns with Electoral Commission rules

Several candidates running in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officer elections have voiced their frustration with the Electoral Commission (EC) rules, that govern the ways in which they are able to conduct their election campaigns.

The EC is the body which regulates SU elections and issues strikes to candidates in the event of rule breaches, with six strikes issued so far during this election period.

Two strikes issued in the first week of campaigning regarded posts made on newly-established Facebook page, “Trinder”, which allows anonymous submissions regarding students in Trinity. As the posts were complimentary towards the candidates, they were considered “endorsement” and, thus, not allowed by EC rules. Both Niamh McCay and Sally Anne McCarthy, who are contesting the Education Officer race, received minor strikes from the EC when messages praising them appeared on the page.

McCay addressed her strike and said that she “respect[s] the decisions made by the EC”, but added that “in the future, if Trinder is still an issue…I think the EC need to contact those in charge and ensure that no incidents like this arise again”.

McCarthy, who received the second Trinder-related strike, believes that for future elections “regulations should be reformed to include specific guidelines on Trinder and other pages like it, but if a candidate is obviously using Trinder to campaign, that should definitely be punished”.

Aisling Leen, the sole candidate in the Welfare Officer race, noted that in the case of Trinder, “anonymity means that these posts could in fact be from anyone”. She also noted the “struggle to understand” how any candidate could be reprimanded for the acts of “someone who could be outside of their campaign team”.

Echoing the views of Leen, Jerico Alcaras, who is running for Ents Officer, noted that he would call for a change to this rule and that “the EC must first check who made the post, because if they do not, then realistically anyone who posts on Trinder has the power to strike candidates off the ballot”.

A fellow candidate of the Ents Officer race, Judith Robinson also recognised the strikes as “very unfair”. She stated that “as a candidate, I do feel restricted by the rules in campaigning”.

Candidates have also pointed to how this has impacted their ability to engage with students. McCarthy stated: “Engagement is a multifaceted problem with no one quick-fix solution. The way elections are run is definitely part of the problem, but there are also a subset of students that no matter what we do will never want to engage with elections and it’s important we respect that.”

McCay said that there is a “lack of clarity” in the rules regarding stunts which “makes it difficult for the EC to make decisions that can be applied to all candidates and their needs”. Speaking of her own experiences, she said: “My original idea for a stunt needed to be played out over several days, and this was not feasible so I chose not to go ahead with it.”

Alcaras echoed this call for clarity, saying “the rules need to be more refined” because certain specifics are “not outlined” in the rules and the “ambiguity” can cause problems.

Leen pointed out that “there is one aspect [of the rules] which I have found restrictive”, explaining: “The best time to meet students in James’ and D’Olier Street is from 1-2pm when we are not allowed to campaign. These particular students can often feel left out of SU affairs and I would love to meet with as many of them as possible.”

Laura Beston, who is running for President, said: “Sometimes [the rules] can stop you from being more creative with your campaign. Be it in terms of design or execution but I guess the parameters are there to create as fair a playing field as possible.” She suggested that “there could be a few more changes that could help free it up more that could inject a bit more life into the campaign but changes must be thought out properly”.

Beston did however praise that the restrictions “maintain a healthy balance between communicating with students and being overbearing”.

Daire Hennessy, the other candidate in the race for President, said he thinks the EC does an “excellent job” in making sure elections are run fairly. However, he also called for reform, arguing “some rules could be relaxed”, which he said would “definitely leave room for a little more innovation in SU elections”. Hennessy also noted that “there’s an argument to be made against candidates being held accountable for the actions of others”.

Muireann Kane, the sole candidate for Communications and Marketing Officer, issued a statement of support for the EC, describing the body as “nothing short of excellent” and commended their “brilliant efforts”.

The sole candidate for the role of University Times Editor, Donal McNamee, was similarly positive about the body saying “the EC couldn’t have predicted the Trinder issue” and adding “there’s plenty of scope to run a very effective campaign within the EC’s rules”.

In an email statement to Trinity News, Secretary of the EC and current Education Officer, Aimee Connolly, said: “Our rules are in place to level the playing field and are never intended to punish any candidate. Endorsement for a candidate by an outside body means that they receive unfair advantage; we simply issue strikes and restrictions to ensure there is a fair race for all and not just those with certain connections. This has always been the case. Furthermore, our rules are in place to ensure students’ safety – online anonymous pages can, and have been, dangerous in targeting individuals negatively. EC rules are reviewed and reformed every year, being accepted by Council in the first semester. Issues may be brought up here by members of the Union and may again be raised during the campaign by anyone who sees a ruling as unfair. We are always happy to meet with candidates to discuss any concerns or questions they may have and this has been expressed to them.”
Connolly continued: “Rules are in place to ensure candidates and campaign teams respect the College community and uphold the Dignity and Respect policy. There are many rules that allow for creativity in campaigns, such as the allowance of events run by Ents candidates, a budget for a stunt, and no restrictions on which materials candidates much purchase. The rules are laid out to protect candidates and other students from any harm, while encouraging creativity in their campaign.”

Luke Rynne Cullen did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.